Every year patrons line up for a taste of tostados, burritos, tacos and other traditional Mexican favorites on the menu at the Fiesta Mexicana, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church’s largest annual fundraiser and arguably a family reunion of sorts for Flint’s Latino families.
Kitchen preparations begin six months in advance of the event, which relies largely upon the volunteer efforts of a multi-generational group of women who happily gather every Tuesday evening to prepare the tortillas needed for the weekly meal following Sunday church services. They also work in anticipation of the additional demand for the Fiesta event.
The longtime volunteer head of the Fiesta’s kitchen Julia Perez-Stutso described what it takes to feed the thousands who come out for the two-day event, which will be held this year from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. June 29 and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 30.
“About 200 pounds of pork, hundreds of pounds of beef and equal volumes of beans,” says Perez-Stutso, a Flint native and catechism teacher at Our Lady of Guadalupe, 2136 West Coldwater Road.
In addition to the meal, cultural exhibitions and vendors will be among highlights at the 62nd annual event. Entertainment will include El Ballet Folklorico Estudiantil, performing Mariachi-style presentations throughout the weekend.
Using a staff of only 10 hard-working volunteers, Perez-Stutso notes that the meal service provides an opportunity to bring a diverse group of people together.
“Food is a unifying factor for us all,” she says. “When we invite someone to our table to enjoy homemade dishes made with love it signals a welcome that’s warmer than the most sincere handshake.”
The Fiesta’s menu is also authentic, she says.
“Nothing in the kitchen is made from recipes,” she says. “The volunteer cooks rely upon time-honored family recipes that require a pinch of this and a dash of that, in order to prepare their signature dishes.”
Among the featured baked goods are traditional bigotes (buttery, flaky pastry dusted in granulated sugar), churros (fried-dough pastry), chonchas (sweet bread rolls covered in cookie crust), and quesitos (cheesecake-filled pastries).
Discerning cooks can even tell who put their own personal stamp on seasoned meats based on flavor alone, Perez-Stutso adds.
Celebrating her ninth year of service, she does not anticipate relinquishing her volunteer role any time soon, but does see the need to pass on the cooking traditions and skills she learned from her grandmother, mother and fellow church parishioners.
“We routinely recruit young volunteers from our catechism classes and other youth activities,” she says. “It’s fun for the kids to learn how to make tortillas and to be amongst such a lively group of women. Despite age differences, lifetime bonds and friendships form and become a part of the bond that keeps the Fiesta Mexicana tradition alive.”
The most rewarding part of such intense, voluntary work during the Fiesta is a sense of fulfillment, Perez-Stutso says: “We are happiest when we are able to give guests what they came for — authentic, delicious foods made from the heart.”
Anyone interested in participating as a vendor at Fiesta Mexicana should contact Rafael Vasquez at 305-733-1277. Additional questions regarding the event should be directed to Tòmas Tello at 810-516-5398. Learn more on Facebook at Fiesta Mexicana at Our Lady of Guadalupe.